Thank You For Calling the Federal Department of Ouch, Please Hold

Or,  5am meditations on that weird stabbing pain.*

You can try to self-actualize to be your best self until the cows come home, but all life really is is a constant recalibration of which everyday activities you can now do “wrong” such that they will cause you physical pain, paired with the ongoing effort of differentiating between “something is wrong with me and I should see a medical professional” and “I am X years old and sometimes things just hurt.”

  • Ages 2-4: You might burst into tears because you wanted a banana and someone had the temerity to give you a banana, but physically, you are nigh-impervious. You can run into the pointy edge of a marble coffee table at full tilt with no physical repercussions, even if you take the full impact with your eyeball.
  • Age 10: You can be injured if you are pushed out of a third-story window a la Brandon Stark in Games of Thrones, but there are no everyday activities that lead to injury.
  • Age 14: The tipping point. It’s all downhill from here.
  • Age 16: You can play a sport wrong.
  • Age 23: You can have sex wrong.
  • Age 28: You can pick up a fairly heavy object wrong.
  • Age 33: You can do household chores wrong; in particular, you can vacuum wrong and/or make the bed wrong.
  • Age 37: You can pick up a fairly light object wrong.
  • Age 40: You can sleep wrong.

You can, of course, be injured at any stage of life by outside actors or forces, and illness respects no age bracket — these are just the milestones for accidental self-inflicted quotidian injury. And there is some range; personally, I have been sleeping wrong since the ripe old age of 22, because I’ve always been an overachiever.

Age 41, I have discovered, is the age at which it is possible to sit on a couch wrong. I’m not sure where things go from here and am forced to assume all humans aged 42 and older are in a constant state of something hurting for no good reason.

I might suggest that as we are all human and all trying our best to cope with our deteriorating meat sacks, a great thing to do is to have empathy for other humans and their meat sacks. Frankly, I think this also makes a sound political litmus test: Jill is on the bus, trying not to miss her stop while she figures out how worried to be about a sudden pain in her leg that could be a deadly blood clot but could also be the result of sitting with her legs crossed funny on the uncomfortable bus stop bench for too long. Is your policy proposal going to make Jill’s life easier, or harder?

  • Affordable Care Act rollbacks: harder! At the very least, she might want to go to a doctor so she can definitively stop worrying about the deadly blood clot scenario and she might not have a job that offers good insurance, or any insurance, not that I have ever been this person and gone to the emergency room for that precise reason.
  • Stronger gun control laws: easier! Jill has enough to think about at the moment without worrying about how to deal with an active shooter at the TJMaxx.
  • Defunding Planned Parenthood: harder! What if it is a deadly blood clot, god forbid, and she has to go off the pill because of the increased clotting risk? She’s gonna need to visit the gyno.
  • Pharmaceutical advertising restrictions: easier! Ads suggesting that she talk to her doctor about whether Axibdia is right for her make her worry more about her probably-just-life-related pains, and if she misses her bus stop because she’s preoccupied about whether she should talk with her GP about Flyrbidal despite the increased risk of fatal ear wax buildup or fire bunions or disempowered spleen she won’t get to the DMV before closing time and if her license expires who’s gonna take grandpa to his bowling league on Thursday? Not her flaky sister Deb, that’s for damn sure.

This is why universal healthcare seems like such a no-brainer to me. Obviously, the system falls apart if the person in question is a very rich person, because very rich people have enough cash on hand to pay scientists to replace their ailing bodies with the bodies of poor people and/or robot bodies. But that’s a tiny sliver of the population, and we should be optimizing for the majority. So think about Jill, is all I’m saying, because aside from Jeff Bezos, we’re all Jill. And tell me if I should be worried about this weird pain in my right ribs.


* Update! Woke up this morning, stabbing pain is gone. Truly, bodies are nonsense.


  1. Weird nighttime stabbing pain in right ribs turned out to be my gallbladder. My favorite “am I dying or just old” moments, on the downhill slide to 40: Random ache in left shoulder. Oncoming heart attack, or slept funny? It’s like Russian roulette, but with body parts.


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